What are you expecting from your college experience? Like many students, you may be filled with excitement at the idea of going out to parties, meeting hundreds (or thousands!) of new people, becoming independent, and starting the next chapter of your story. You’ve probably seen countless videos spread across social media or heard dozens of stories from your peers telling you that your college years will be the best of your life. When I started college, I expected my transition from high school to be seamless, exhilarating, and, overall, a reassurance that I was exactly where I was meant to be. What I ended up experiencing was much more grounding than what I expected, but I learned a lesson that will stay with me forever: the importance of personalizing your college experience so that your expectations don’t end up personalizing you.
College doesn’t have to be stereotypical
Although I was about 13 hours from home and all by myself for the first time ever, I was incredibly excited to begin the highly anticipated college experience that I had been hearing about my whole life. A few days after I moved into my dorm at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, my roommates and I decided that we would go out to our first frat party (that's as big a “college experience” as you can get, right?). I was beaming with nervous excitement as we walked through the doors of the party, but when I walked out about an hour later, I came to a realization that greatly challenged all the expectations I had set for my college experience: I hated frat parties.
Partying, drinking, and other risky activities; I did not enjoy these things, yet I spent most of my freshman and sophomore years trying to attain this idea of “the college experience.” But it only left me feeling burnt out, drained of self-confidence, and unassured that I was exactly where I was meant to be after all. I learned that I’m not the only one who feels this way. When interviewed by Teen Vogue, Lauryn Jiles—a student at the University of South Carolina—admitted that “before you even attend school, you’re constantly told that those four years fly by and that you have to make the most of your experience, or you have to do this, or do that, to have a great time.” My first two years of college would have been much more enjoyable if I had only understood that not having the traditional college experience was not equivalent to my college experience being ruined.
The truth about the college experience
The truth is that the traditional college experience is a myth. Each person you meet at your school carries with them unique characteristics. They have faced and overcome challenges that you may never have experienced yourself. Not every person will have been raised the way that you were, because each student comes with a different cultural, economic, and racial background. Everyone comes with their own story that they are continuing, and thus every person on campus is having their own special and unique college experience. While some of them may very well love and enjoy the party lifestyle that my high school–self dreamed of, I have come to realize that there are just as many people who do not—and that's perfectly okay! I enjoy my college experience much more now that I live a lifestyle that best suits my values and personality.
Personalizing your college experience
To personalize your own college experience, you must first understand your basic values as a person. This happens naturally as you go through life, and college is the perfect place for experimentation with one’s identity. For example, I never would have known that I didn’t like going to frat parties if I had never attended one. As long as you’re being safe, trying things that are out of your comfort zone is a great way to understand who you are. Joining groups and clubs on and off campus that showcase your interests and values is another great way to tailor your college experience to your preferences. Through the hundreds of clubs and groups that most universities offer, you can meet people with similar interests while also building your resumé.
The key to enjoying your college experience is to surround yourself with people who make you feel safe and comfortable with being yourself. Plus, being yourself will attract other people who relate to you, which makes it even easier to form lasting friendships. Understanding and accepting that I enjoy a slow night in with a good book much more than a loud and bustling party has brought me great amounts of peace. What I expect now from my college experience is much different than what I expected previously. Today, I view my college experience as a stepping stone to my adult life and career rather than a chance for limitless fun and vicarious self-assurance.
Entering college mindfully
So, what are you expecting from your college experience? You don’t need to know the answer right away, and it will probably change over time. Just like any experience in life, you shouldn’t go into college with an expectation of what it will be like. Your college years are a beautiful period filled with substantial self-growth and exploration, dealing with unexpected changes, and growing into the adult version of yourself. As you enter college, it’s best to do so mindfully. Contemplate who you are now, who you want to become, and how you can get there.
With this advice in mind, you’ll enter college with a goal that you can work toward over time instead of an unrealistic ideal. Throughout college, the only thing you can ever truly expect is change. Although change is scary, it can be even scarier to always stay the same. When you follow your intuition, love yourself, and allow yourself space to grow and change as a person, you’ll naturally end up where you're supposed to be.
It's important to feel welcome, supported, and free to be yourself on your future campus! Find where you’re meant to be with the CollegeXpress Ultimate Guide to the College Search.